Ahriman

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My seventh atelier resembles a mythical ship, which has long been orbiting unusual events. I think about these events and experience its sailing as a mysterious odyssey in humankind’s space-time. Mysteries intrigue me; like capricious kids, they disturb the divine simplicity of time. They say time flows, that it heals wounds and determines all…

For the ancients of the Mediterranean, time was personified by Chronos: that strange god swallowed his own children! The dimensions that gods embody are divine dimensions, but the image of the beast which consumes its own offspring was not in tune with civilization. When ancient gods were assimilated by modern gods, the paths toward the labyrinth of time multiplied. Modern gods sailed their ships toward the sky, they took bold steps and deciphered the Earth in the “Green Belt” of the Galaxy…

For us it is now logical, desired and believable: In our planet, the continuum of time projects its own human incarnation in harmony with the perfect models of the universe.  Reflecting upon our amazing stories, we reflect upon the odyssey of human time, the most beautiful chapter of spacetime or the art of the Universe itself.

The events that originate in the past, at times appear to me as past events, at other times as dreams more or less similar or transformed, awaiting their fulfillment in the future…

*

Ahriman appeared in my atelier in 2006. It is not the Persian demon but an unusual event and a mysterious human subject. The subjects of human nature represent events which, when faced with different subjects, bend in different shapes.  The Malignant Persian spirit is the event that Ahriman represents in front of Ormuzd… In 2006, in the atelier, the mysterious dimension is felt suddenly. In my seventh atelier, two subject from different worlds share impressing experiences. However, very soon, one of them harbors the Malign Spirit; one of them, or each for the other, transforms into Ahriman. The mystery of human contradictions echoes over the images of mythology!

*

Walking on the sidewalks of Tirana after a rainy day, one can never feel secure; tricky tiles, the ones floating on water, spy on you from every corner and splatter you with dirt when you step on them. You stomp your feet to evade the muddy water, you curse the city where you were born and continue to walk among the passersby who think that you have mental health problems. In a city where the sidewalks are full of tricky tiles, mental health problems are inevitable.

With my right foot, wet from a tricky tile in the corner of Berlin Restaurant, I begin to go up toward my atelier. Over the wooden stairs of the building of the Shijaks, I am able to discern the track of wet footsteps that my right foot creates behind me. I go in the atelier, I put on Bobby McFerrin’s album, I begin to work in front of my easel and the apparition of wet footsteps comes forth again. I do not attempt to go out and look at them again, but I am certain that the footsteps are there, still wet on the wooden stairs…This memory belongs to a morning in 2006, whereas the Shijaks’ building was built seventy years ago and the wooden stairs must be a mysterious archive.

Lately, I don’t see wet footsteps anymore, despite going up and down those stairs almost daily. Perhaps I am not paying them due attention. What happens to me now is something else: I go up, I come down, and I feel around me the presence of the many people who have walked on those stairs in the past seventy years. Generally, the passersby form a cloud of black and white shadows, which one can easily penetrate. Sometimes I turn my head, I memorize the silhouette of an elegant shape and my day goes well! I am released from the imposing images of brooding men or women who are obsessed with fashion, only after I go in the atelier, entirely alone.

Casually, I look at my creations, at the paintings hung on the four walls of the atelier, which, at first sight, appear entirely mute. My creations pertain to different subjects. In the atelier, everything is a figure:  from the mere movement of the creator’s hand, every unknown contour could take on the form of a known object. In the painter’s atelier, every known figure could further be transformed into the unknown, transmitting the illusive idea of the missing figure.  In the creator’s atelier, the known and the unknown play hide and seek… Painting A, displays a number of points and lines; the nebulousness of painting A is not too attractive to the visitor. Meanwhile, the visitor goes closer to painting B, where the same nebulousness spans Venus’ hair. Because of painting B, the visitor begins to also like painting A! In general, the visitor is afraid of the unknown; he likes his “known” world, he has set principles and seeks to explain everything, even though he only lives about a century around 2010. In general, the visitor is incorrigible: in the year 7010 he will do the same thing. That much is certain.

Each creation, each painting that exposes or hides a figure, could simultaneously be a creator. Through this idea, I declare the cosmogony within the atelier, I generate debate and I no longer look at my paintings in passing: I stand amidst myriad times, happenings and subjects, where everybody could challenge everybody.  I am comfortable in my atelier, free of the tricky tiles or the seventy year long history of the wooden stairs, and surprisingly I do not feel alone. I am here, as a result of our Creator’s experiences, to create my version of broody or fashion-obsessed subjects, those who love, hate and who, in the end, embody the good and the bad, like Ormuzd and Ahriman.

I go out in the balcony of the atelier to check the canvass which is laid out and sprinkled with countless fluid colors that should dry in a horizontal position.  During the drying process, the liquid colors flow according to the law of gravity, intermingling with each other, taking shapes that I have to supervise and shift around according to my fantasy and command… I raise my head toward the sky and I look at the clouds as they intertwine more or less similarly.  As a child, when my grandfather would recount the wonders of Greek mythology, in the live cloud clusters, I would seek the vortex of Troy’s backstage, looking for Zeus, Athena or Aphrodite who ceaselessly ran and confounded, oftentimes becoming difficult to distinguish. Those colors, now almost dry on the canvass, attempt the visual reproduction of a story of which I am part, like an invisible particle inside the so-called “Shijak’s building,” here, on planet Earth of the Solar System which promenades the Milky Way… On every possible level, the story is conjured by the omnipotent powers.  Gravitation and Fantasy offer positive proof. The Pantheon of All-powerful Gods always evokes the virtues, sins and passions characteristic of human nature.

I raise the dry canvass from the floor, placing it vertically on the easel in order to continue the painting process, simultaneously feeling the paintings that hang on the walls. I am certain that some of them are looking fixedly at me so as to supervise and influence my fantasy, desires or passions which I will be transmitting on the canvass. They are certain that a new creation will be added in the heart of their mural cosmos and wish for it to be an offspring of their intrigues.

I attempt to ignore them, focusing solely on the easel, but a few minutes later I get up to change the background music and in the corner, close to the stereo, I unwittingly encounter Ahriman. The dark nebula of the flowing hair does not fully cover the fragile face, the scary paleness and the deeply set eyes, which one never knows what they are piercing, who they are looking at and what they seek. I immediately dodge the gaze, forgetting which CD I was looking for just a moment ago and I hear my mobile’s ringtone. I need to go out. Changing from my work clothes, I look once more at Ahriman’s portrait, which houses the dark enigmas of our passions with which the mythical waves continue to sprinkle us even today. Amidst the figures that prevail in the mural cosmos of the atelier, Ahriman continues to be present. Until now, she is the most worthy incarnation of Epithumia who successfully endures within the noble debate of the atelier. “The Nobles” of the atelier represents today’s society: they are traditional, they are selective and, certain things, they do not openly accept. A god whose weapon is the hidden-ness of human desires, could only survive by hiding such desires, by acting nobly and frequenting the powerful gods!

I go down toward “Berlin Restaurant” to see a few friends. My friends are late, and I am left waiting for more than ten minutes. I think about the very last images from the debate with the paintings in the atelier and I perceive myself as the Creator of an entirely known world without fantasy, a world where the fable of civilization’s morality recurs mercilessly. The incredible variation of the planet’s some-million-year-old biosphere and the thousands of years old technology of civilization, function very slowly. The citizen of antiquity and the modern citizen are one and the same: the antithetical reality of an open and simultaneously hidden warfare for the desires of the flesh, power and money, survives like a bad seed, even though it becomes evermore humorous, evermore irritating for anthropology and mental health… I try to imagine the creation of an entirely different world, a world where the beautiful triumphs over the ugly, the good over the bad, justice over injustice – a utopian and graphically impossible world – and it is then that my friends arrive at the restaurant and my utopian imaginings transform into dust, into wind.

Our feast at “Berlin Restaurant” is dedicated to Tanush Frasheri. Professor Tanush lives in Austria and will be in Tirana only for a few days. Iris, the cinematographer who is interested, among other things, in exploring theater during the communist period, is surprised at Tanush’s knowledge, refinement and aristocratic mannerisms. Tanush values his friends in his memories and passionately reacts to the priorities of those he is conversing with… My most precious memories with the professor belong to the high school period, where he would teach the subjects of French and history. In the early 1970’s, Tanush was the curator of the first exhibition with the art work of high school students from Tirana. In this exhibition, which was organized at the Palace of Culture, Tanush also featured some of my pieces which were not in alignment with the official norms of Socialist Realism. The professor overcame the concern of the school’s executive board by creating “elegant labels”. The horrific and decomposing portrait he titled, “The Death of Imperialism”; the green beggar he fearlessly titled, “Silent Pain,” whereas the surrealist Madonna, “The Mother of the Fallen Hero”. The day of the inauguration, a few rowdy students were laughing like crazy as Tanush hurried in every corner of the gallery to interact with the art-loving audience, not without turning his head toward the “rascals.”  The desire to trample with totalitarian ideology, if only briefly, was very intriguing at the time, even though the costs were high. Two years later, Tanush was officially accused of the heresy of agitation and propaganda against the Totalitarian State…

What is special about the rare meetings with Professor Tanush is the feeling of being entirely suspended from the trivialities of life, something he transmits through passionate debate and Homeric fluctuations of style. Professor Tanush always appears and disappears surprisingly at the right moment.

*

On the couch of the atelier I have a number of interesting books that are also useful for my work. The space between the couch and the easel is covered by a circular burgundy carpet, its roundness giving material visibility to the idea of the orbit in movement. Every element in the atelier: the easel, the walls, the paintings, everything at every moment, must be in harmony with the creator.  Sipping a glass of wine, when I sit on the couch to talk to or look through my dearest books, it occurs to me that the idea of a static easel, of a wall or painting always staring at me from the same place, would be intolerable.

In my hands, I hold an Italian book on fossils and paleontology. I respectfully touch the first pages, which is where Herodotus is mentioned. The famous traveler and historian – long considered the father of history, compared anthropology and ethnography – thought about the mollusks of Africa and considered the fact that millions of years ago, parts of that continent were under sea water. I touch those pages with respect because he is Herodotus, the irreplaceable historian, commonly critiqued for having a “shortcoming,” which intrigues me above all else. Herodotus, a citizen of the fifth century BC, “suffered” from the symptom of the prehistoric art giants: Herodotus did not differentiate myth from reality!

Historians, astronomers, artists and scholars of all times, have marveled and continue to marvel at the fossils found on Earth. They look at the stars, they touch the fossils, thus creating history. The cradle of fantasy on which their art and myths are based is just as deep and graspable: it is found everywhere around us and we are immersed in it like the stars in space. It is not at all easy thinking about the foundations of a reality on which rest all of human fantasy, mythology and history: the mystery of the human dimension of time contains the entirety of our house in the sky, on earth and in the sea.

The verses of Homer are the first oeuvre where the genius of art, mythology and history work in perfect harmony to immortalize human power, love and spite. Hundreds of millions of years ago, an endless diversity of beings fought for life, thus paving the way for humankind, the verses of Homer and Paleontology itself.

In Earth’s fossils, I see the foundations of all graspable reality on which human fantasy, mythology and history are built. Along an arch of more than two billion years, from the Archeozoic to the Quarternary, from the trail of the Monera to those of humankind, fossils immortalize the perfect harmony of the “Earthly Genius”… It is astounding!  I am not aware whether there is a computer or human mind able to process on a monitor, in the imagination or visually, consciously or programmatically, the grand avalanche of this experience that ancient myths dedicate to the Gods!… The experiments of the “planetary experience” are etched within each individual, but nevertheless, the imagination of a conscious creative process would not be able to grasp it were it not for the help of the touchable reality granted by fossilization. It is an amazing reality for lucky researchers! The remains of species in various sizes – many of which have now been transformed or have disappeared – uncover millions of years as though they were alive, offering wonderful symbols to the complexity of human experience with the sky, the earth and the sea. The skeletons of Mesozoic dinosaurs, winged reptiles or Quaternary elephants with a hole in their forehead, have, throughout time, puzzled the human imagination by generating amazing images of the Dragon, of the Siren, of Polyphemus….  To our amazement, all of these miracles are touchable: in nature, at the Museum, in books and within our imagination. Herodotus touches mollusks; he writes history and “fuses” myth with reality!  Some people are really favored by fortune!

*

The creation I have just added to the pantheon of the atelier resembles an arabesque poured in “ketchup” in the middle of the canvass. In fact, the technique used is “ketchup” indeed, with one difference: instead of tomatoes, oil and acrylic are mixed in the atelier. The piece refers to a fossil with special properties, one that has been interpreted by scholars either as the trace of the Lumbricaria worm or as the excrement of a fish from the Jurassic period. The ketchup of oil and acrylic was the only way to model the perfect filigree of the complex trace… Generally, visitors do not know about the existence of this fossil; they inevitably judge from the exterior contours of the image and appreciate the painting as an extravagant wedding dress. The visitors’ fantasy springs from their diverse and often rich experiences. Sometimes I happen to withdraw, approving their enthusiastic explanations without too many comments because, sincerely, in this world there are images whose similarities astonish us, even though their essence represents entirely different objects. In such occasions, I feel slightly sinful and I imagine myself like professor Tanush amidst the rowdy high school students. My “rowdy” subjects are the permanent inhabitants of the atelier, the paintings that circumscribe the four walls and that know everything about my last creation. Luckily, the inhabitants of the atelier are mute and their silent laughter cannot be hard by the visitors.  But sinful situations are rather rare. In most cases, the essence of a creation emerges from the unknown depths of the “planetary experience,” which my transitional experience cannot decipher in words; that is the reason why I have preferred visual art and that is also the reason why the inhabitants of the atelier are voiceless… In the end, nobody can know for certain that the Jurassic fossil and the wedding dress are not connected in the unknown depths of the “planetary experience.”  Surprisingly, the debate becomes loud only after the visitors have left. The laughter of the atelier’s inhabitants is rare, because in the heart of the pantheon incredible things happen!

*

Outside my atelier, after going down the wooden stairs of the Shijaks’ building, I feel the earthly air and sounds that envelop every being; outside of the walls of the atelier, sinful happenings are commonplace. I go toward “Coli’s Gallery,” stopping for a few minutes in front of the entrance.  Historically, the road that has just been laid with red bricks remains a center of sinful happenings.  The cigarette vendor reminds me the civil guards of the former neighborhood of the all-powerful.

At the corner of “Banka Credins”, Ahriman appears for a few seconds. She walks lightly, slowly, like the shadow of a kimono that has just come out of the wardrobe. The black hair does not entirely cover the frail face and one never knows what the deep-set eyes are penetrating, who they are looking at and what they seek. Ahriman senses the fate of mortals, neither hurrying nor being late for the temple ceremonies!  The experience of the planet is written with strange substances, bones, blood and whatever else embodies the human being. The mortals investigate their unusual happenings and find themselves implicated in the entirety of the planetary experience: Someone admires an animal, someone a plant, someone else a monster…

The red bricks cover the traces of the Dictatorship monsters who ruled for half a century like belated fossils. Twenty years later, we promenade idly on this red-covered book. The two-legged monsters hurry from afar, they are unearthed from the depths, and they never fail to reappear. With their huge skeletons, Allosaurus Fragilis and Tyrannosaurus Rex remind me of the mine galleries, the ribs of wooden armatures and the darkness through which I sailed for a decade.  The monsters of darkness do not disappear; they mutate, they reduce their bodies and run toward the center from unknown corners. The monsters of the darkness usurp land, shed blood and find hidden support in the temples of worldly Epithumia. According to the utopian fortunetellers of communisms, barbarian invaders refresh the sinful blood of Sodom!

*

2009 and 2010 are difficult years for the capital city’s art scene. My friend Lexani, who is also a painter, meets colleagues who wander around Tirana: he asks if they continue to make a living with their art and raises his shoulders after their humble affirmations. The publishing industry and new applicative modes have entirely absorbed artists.  Painting remains an aristocratic luxury for people who read, but the “aristocracy that reads” finds it evermore difficult to spend.  In art stores, it is only spiders that appreciate canvass painting.

During these two difficult years, I visited Valetta and Strasbourg for a few days.  According to an old idea, exhibits abroad open new windows of opportunity for the artist. The idea that art does not know state borders, is an idea that is just as old. For spoiled, cosmopolitan artists, the new windows of experience are not related to state borders, they are now related to money. But the majority of artists have, for centuries, thought that the “last few years have been difficult and that state borders are an exhausting ghost.”

I walk around the streets of Valetta and the first analogous image that comes to mind is the way in which the streets of Gjirokastra branch out, albeit in different sizes and colors. Gjirokastra, the Albanian city with stony roofs, evokes the past according to a simple, rugged, cold and gray model.  Through the warm colors, Valetta transmits history in more massive and endearing ways.  Valetta’s memories are alive: the statuette of “Venus of Malta”, the polite curator of the Art Museum, the waiter who tells me every morning that the tea is very hot, as well as the Japanese girl…the young girl whose features suggest that she is a Japanese tourist, walks around me in the spaces of the Archaeological Museum, taking photos of everything with a tiny camera, smiling incessantly. In these spaces, where history’s abysmal mysteries resemble the weight of degenerate matter, a being who smiles is unburdening!

Among the paintings exhibited in Valetta, the most popular one, depicting a vertical nude in the shape of an ancient amphora, was purchased by a British lady.  That figure may symbolize the goodness and abundance of humanity. In this feminine figure, stylized according to my visions, the British lady perhaps finds herself, the people who surround her or those she wishes were around her.

Strasbourg is another impression on the experience of earthly limits. My memories of Strasbourg are not interfered by any comparable images from the motherland. Strasbourg is among those characteristic European towns which make it clear to me why the citizens of my motherland cheer for Europe every day without becoming part of it. Among myriad memories, the magnificent filigree of the Notre Dame remains indelible…

Among my paintings exhibited in Strasbourg, the one purchased by a gentleman with Belgian origins, is also a nude. The feminine figure emerges as though it were a stone protrusion from a cliff. The gray feminine figure gives the impression of a fossil preserved in a most perfect way. Such a figure could symbolize the longevity of human sensuality. The Belgian gentleman perhaps finds himself or those he most cherishes there.

In essence, as an inexhaustible act of creation, the art implies a universal invitation. Art is not a gala meant only for adorned individuals. In the universal invitation of art we find names such as Van Gogh or Schubert, even though they are not followed by escorts of stylists before they emerge in front of the public. What is important is the result, whenever it is realized and however late it is judged.  Within itself, the result includes essence, the inexhaustible act of creation and the universal invitation. In the art work we search for ourselves, for what is most essential and closest to our nature and origin.

*

On the ceiling of the atelier I can notice the first signs of mold. The two paintings in the corner, “Zebra” and “The African Girl”, are at risk for molding and perhaps their position should be changed.  They read my thoughts and appear sad. I begin playing Bill Evans’ CD and I look again at corner paintings.  They are no longer sad! It is clear that music has a superb effect on the inhabitants of the atelier… I make myself comfortable in front to the easel, with half a glass of tequila at the corner of the palate, in front of Rozana’s portrait. The portrait is “almost finished”.  For some people, this portrait will always be “almost finished”. For Rozi, her friends and for the people who know her, the portrait is finished. Rozi is always in movement, even when she is sitting down, thinking or reading.  Rozi peruses the art catalogues, recounts her experiences passionately, listens just as passionately to what I tell her and laughs heartily when my grimaces suddenly disrupt the prolonged narration of a dramatic event.  With her warm voice, I don’t know, Rozi should have been a singer… I need to relax and I make funny grimaces to make Rozi laugh. Rozi bursts with laughter, she also makes funny grimaces and our laughter shakes up the attic. The inhabitants of the pantheon echo from the four walls of the atelier without appearing to be jealous at all. They are also in flux, they also have their hidden joys and dramas which sometimes are loudly conveyed!

Rozi’s portrait remains in the atelier only for a few days. The conversations that it has had with the inhabitants of the atelier those days, in the future will be deciphered with the sophisticated tools of the modern gods… Rozi’s mother, Etleva, perhaps has deciphered something in advance!  Time and again, paranormal phenomena challenge time in the most surprising ways: What makes me believe this is a text message that I received from Etleva, the most unique, thankful text message I have ever received. Slightly exaggerated appreciation should not provoke discomfort, especially when it springs from gratefulness and conveys the message of hopeful people.

*

“Thaka’s” café attracts many artists during the difficult years. They are mainly painters and musicians.  The extension of the café on the pavement includes six or seven tables with umbrellas. “Thaka” is a simple and welcoming environment.  In the corner of the building known as “Banka di Napoli”, an ancient and giant eucalyptus creates a big shadow over “Thaka’s” pavement.  The largest part of the eucalyptus rises as a giant antenna over the roof of the café, whereas the base of the trunk can only be seen when inside it. The owners, the sons of “Thaka”, have sheltered the ancient trunk of the eucalyptus inside their unconventional café. Favorable prices are another, very important reason, why artists faithfully frequent “Thaka’s” café… In front of “Thaka’s,” on the other side of the street is located “Vogue”, a café, bar and restaurant much more luxurious than “Thaka’s”. Twenty years ago, in the two-storied villa where “Vogue” is presently located, lived the president of the State of the Dictatorship. “Vogue Restaurant” is commonly frequented by important individuals.  In such cases, a huge car, always black, is parked for a few minutes in the section of the road between “Thaka” and “Vogue”. In the shade of the ancient eucalyptus, “Thaka’s” artists stare at the black, shiny dinosaur, waiting for the door to open from where the VIP person will emerge, slow and majestic, always with a cell phone close to the ear and bodyguards on both sides. Time ago, people thought that a VIP walks slowly and apparently exhausted, simply because of their provincial vanity.  Time ago, not knowing enough about the roughness of the struggle for survival, people judged mistakenly. The artists of “Thaka” are not surprised when VIP’s appear tired: with their deeds in a single decade of their struggle for survival, the champions of their motherland could ridicule every epoch of the planetary biosphere.

continue..


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